Content Strategy, Content Marketing and Content is King

Note: I have been meaning to write this ever since I read Ian Luries’s post on “How to create a content strategy”. I suggest you read that as well – it’s a great piece in actually getting the work done. The piece below is just a starting point. I have lots more on the way, hopefully I will be able to expands on most sections and start giving out some more detailed examples and actionable strategies. But for now the piece below is aimed at any brand, site or business about to embark on a “content marketing” plan…

Hearts Content

It amazes me that many businesses talk about “content marketing” as if they really have a clue. From digital agencies to PR firms, from clients to bloggers, I have been seeing this mantra of “content” getting stronger and stronger. However, every time I see what they push when they mean content, I often feel disappointed.

Content is King – Bill Gates

Ever heard of “Content is King”? Well the fact that content is the way forward ISNT a new idea. In 1996(!) Bill Gates wrote a piece titled just that

Let me pull out some choice quotes from the piece:

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting. The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.”

Sound familiar?

“When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide”

More on this later.

“But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.”

Your business size doesn’t matter! Its what and how you deliver that does.

“A question on many minds is how often the same company that serves an interest group in print will succeed in serving it online. Even the very future of certain printed magazines is called into question by the Internet.”

This was 1996! We have seen a lot of these conversations about Paywalls etc come into play. Many magazines have indeed shut down or suffered major circulation losses.

I suggest you click that archived post and read it, if you don’t nod along to almost every point Bill Gates makes, I will find it fairly surprising. He was of course more thinking about content and how it can be monestised (adsense, paypal, social media, even Google didn’t exist back when he wrote this – the first version of the search engine went live on a private network August that year on a Stanford University server).

So I have established the fact that the concept of content as a marketing tool isn’t a new one, and even predates search engines and social media.

So What is Content Then?

To be honest, any material, from the written word to video, to music, from comics to photos, from software to apps, is content. Online content is anything that can be consumed online. Your sites FAQs? Content. Your business history? Content.

When you talk about content marketing, forget the conventional assumption that content is anything viral or interesting such as infographics or videos etc. Content can be content in any form as long as it serves a purpose. Based on my experience, I classify good content as anything that:

  • Entertains
  • Annoys
  • Makes a point
  • Helps
  • Clarifies
  • Educates

Sounds rather simplistic right? But I am pretty sure that most content serves one or two of the above purposes.

Unfortunately a lot of content marketers are getting hung up on creating a lot of content that has short shelf life, or content that is created for the sake of creation, not to serve a purpose.

Why Am I Taking Pot shots at the rest of the “Content Industry?

Frankly, I am not. All I am saying is that too many people have jumped on the band wagon of content marketing without really getting to understand content marketing. An infographic is great piece of content, one that could earn you links and increase your brand awareness if done right. However, many agencies and brands don’t do it right. There has to be a process, a purpose, appeal and intent when planning any piece of content. And before rushing to build clever content, it may be useful to actually see where content gaps lie WITHIN the business rather than looking outward to push stuff that is short lived. This is myopic marketing.

But What is Good Content Then?

Now that’s the tricky part. The definition of “good content” can and will vary from industry to industry, from niche to niche and even from a situation point of view. However, when talking about “Content” as a marketing strategy, I normally devise a series of questions about the business / website in question first, and then use the data from that as a starting point.

There a different types of content; however I encourage businesses to focus on what is missing first, and to worry about the rest later. There is no reason WHY you can’t have clever marketing content, but brands and businesses should stop leaving the easy wins on the table. The often common argument I hear is that “we don’t have the internal resources to do this work”. Yet, the same brand will splash out millions on one hit wonder PPC campaigns, speculative display ads, and even sometimes, pointless PR exercises.

There are MANY easy wins that require content that should be taken care of first.

For example – any ecommerce business that issues voucher codes should have their own GOOD voucher code landing page, with their latest voucher codes added, as well as some information on how to redeem etc.

That may be one way they steal traffic away from their voucher code affiliates – after all, who make a living out of ranking for “Brand+Voucher Code” type keywords.

That same page can also become a good email / lead gen capture page, as well as a potential social media winner if you encourage the sharing of it. There are many mechanics to do that well.

Yet very few brands win that space. A few do try though:

Currys Discount codes

Another good example of good content is Store Locations.

Search engines, and google in particular work very hard to try and deliver local results as hard as possible. However you need to go the distance and make sure you have the content to back up those queries.

Take Pets at Home for instance. (note – I am not taking a pot shot at their SEO – the fact that they rank for almost every pet related KW under the sun says it all, so instead of showing a BAD site, I would rather show a site that does REALLY well in SEO.)

If I want to find a store in Leicester, I have to use their store finder, which gives me a good list of all the stores in a particular location: http://www.petsathome.com/shop/en/pets/store-locations-results?latitude=52.6368778&longitude=-1.1397591999999577&region=&address=leicester

Yet that page sucks from a SEO point of view.

What does that have to do with content you ask? Isn’t that a straightforward technical SEO issue?

No.

People often use search engines to look for stores in their area. Can you see the result below?

Pets At Home - Store Locator

The location that Google shows me is this http://community.petsathome.com/stores/leicester-fosse/ Now that is decent content – a bit sparse, yes, and needs more information, more textual content, but it’s a good section about a store in Leicester.

Ideally I would want a “Leicester landing page” and then a link to these “community” pages.

That is content that serves multiple purposes. If I wanted to thank a store in Leicester, and if I had their URL, I could tweet it, share it, or even link to it.  If I wanted to create a page about pet shops in Leicester, I could link to the category page. But Pets at Home doesn’t want me to do that, instead it would rather I link to a non-search engine friendly store locator result page and a community page that is blocked by robots…  (The page is follow, index, but… http://community.petsathome.com/robots.txt). Well, at least they rank…

So How Do I Build A Content Strategy?

First off, differentiate between the two, Marketing Content, and what I like to call, Necessary Content.

Let’s look at my process for building necessary content.  

Normally the process of building a content rich site isn’t as straight forward as adding text to category and product pages – for that, Ian Luries post section on Content Audits fits the bill nicely in the way you need to collect that data – analysis should be fairly straight forward if you are looking at pure volume of text suing screaming frog. It goes beyond that, as I have described earlier, a lot of content fits into different parts of a site. I normally start with a series of discovery questions.

Questions I typically ask are:

  1. Does your site answer every question that a user may have?
  2. Does your site have a history of its business?
  3. Does your site have a detailed PR and marketing section with the latest adverts and campaigns?
  4. Does your site have information about the products or services it sells and how to get the most out of them?
  5. Do your site or business founder/s have their own insights and histories published on the site?
  6. Does the business have “experts” in their fields that can contribute to content and research?
  7. What does the site visitor profiles look like? What are they interested in most?
  8. Do you record and review all customer service calls / emails / contacts and make a list of what are the most commonly asked questions?
  9. Do you go “beyond the sale” when selling a product?
  10. Do you have reviews on your site?
  11. Do you have physical locations, and does each one of these have their own sections?
  12. What channels of content distribution do you have?
  13. How active are your social channels and which ones do you use?

Etc Etc Etc

My list of questions can pretty much run into about 100+ if I let them. However each client is different and I try and tailor these for clients differently.

A detailed analysis of the data obtained from these questions and then cross relaying competitor research, keyword research and industry trends gives you a robust view of the direction a business’s content strategy should really take.

Ideally the process is to get the answer to be “yes” when it is currently “no”.

So for example, “Does your site answer every question that a user may have?”

Most people say no, or maybe. However the fact that a business still gets a number of customer service questions would most likely mean one of three things:

  • The content doesn’t exist (you aren’t answering all the questions)
  • The content isn’t easy to find (navigation, internal link structure, user journeys)
  • Your users are just lazy

 

With the first two, I can certainly help, but probably not with the third :)

With a situation like this, I would typically encourage the business to run detailed surveys where possible, asking users what they are looking for etc, while at the same time crunching the data from customer service calls  / emails etc and putting together a robust set of FAQs.

Once that is done, we obviously get well written content, videos etc to answer as many of these. Then the job of distribution comes in, which in this scenario is making sure that we are linking to the relevant sections within the site, as often as necessary.

Now let’s look at marketing content (content for SEO/traffic purposes).

I tend to split this further into three sections

  • Onsite SEO Content
  • Onsite Marketing SEO Content
  • Offsite marketing SEO Content

 

Don’t be fooled, both are content areas to go ON to the site, but I make the distinction because onsite SEO content is base level stuff like product descriptions, voucher code pages, store locators, and even meta tags.

Onsite Marketing SEO content is stuff that may pull in links, traffic or branding.

Onsite Content

Like I said, Ian’s post covers a lot of this, but I would like to highlight some areas that justify being under an onsite content strategy:

Meta Descriptions and Titles – it is amazing how many businesses don’t place enough attention on meta descriptions and title tags, and just auto churn them out. Yet the same businesses will spend countless hours tweaking and updating their PPC copy to improve CTR from the SERPs. For a holiday company that I was consulting for any years back, we would update meta descriptions and even title tags to include the latest offers and discounts, using PPC copy tests to perfect descriptions and titles with high CTRs.

Store Locators – I have covered these in the examples above. Another really good variation of this type of a local query is “opening hours”, and worth looking into.

Special Offers – again, stuff like discount codes, voucher codes etc. should be on here. Your keyword audit should also highlight keywords such as “brand + Free Delivery” etc where you should focus on as well.

Past Products – I find it distressing that when a product is out of stock, or is no longer in demand, businesses just kill those pages (SEOs 301 them of course!). However, with really successful products with a lot of social activity, links whatever, I have started recommending eCommerce businesses to keep those product pages live – they have built up good equity, and have a history – as such I think a “Past Product Archive” is a nice thing to have on a site for successful items, plus you can use those pages to boost internal links to newer versions, or similar products or categories. If possible, really successful items should have their history built up there. There have been so many iconic products over the years, imagine if the retailers had maintained their original product pages?

An example – Google Ford – you will get the Ford official site. Yet, if you google “Ford Cortina” – they are nowhere to be found. Cortina fans all over the world would gladly link to an official Ford Cortina page with information that possible only the brand and die-hard fans possess about the car.

Surveys – It is amazing how many PR stories I read that talk about a survey result or the other, but when you look at the site / business that launched it, you can’t find any mention to the survey, the data, or the results. This is fairly daft if you want links, get this content on YOUR site. Similarly, if you are running an infographic about something, and even if the infographic is for external use only, at least get a page of content up about it on your site.

Onsite Marketing SEO Content

Like I said, this type of content is content on the site, but it’s not core to the sites purpose. Some examples:

PR / advertising content – If you have a PR campaign or a press release, I find it VERY annoying that brands don’t launch these on their own sites first, or have a decent media section. These sections are great for journalists, bloggers and researchers, why let third parties get the links and traffic for them? The same applies to TV adverts – why not have your own archives? Or brochures – it’s not a big job to create a brochure directory, and really businesses with a lot of them should keep these online too.

Founders / CEO profiles – If you have well known founders or CEOs or any well-known people involved in the business, why don’t you have content that relates to them? Simple, factual, biographical content does get links, sadly a lot of these go to Wikipedia…  (as a separate post – start reclaiming those Wikipedia links)

Duncan Bannatyne

404 Pages, Error Pages, Out Of stock Pages – I don’t really have to go into a long detailed post on how these can be used to attract links. Even Robots Text files can get links…

explictly robots txt links

Content Framework and Guidelines

The frame work for your content – Ians post goes into some detail about Tone of Voice, topics, hierarchy, metrics and goals, so I won’t republish that here – I may at some time in the future have my own methodology for treating each.

But I will stress on the point – BUILD a framework for your work before you begin. This is very important to maintain a high standard of continuity of messaging and tone, as well as delivery of it.

Content Without Distribution and Delivery is Pointless.

There are many ways to disperse and distribute content and equally as many ways to use it for SEO. Take for example Innocent – they have had some really good packaging, which features some sort of funny copy in one way or the other. In fact, they started a trend that has now been reduced to “wackaging”. However the point I am making is that they used their existing channels of distribution to market clever content, and then built a page that then captures those messages – so not only does the content work for marketing, branding and PR, but gets a few decent links too.

The same way, content without delivery is useless. However this may spin into a complete post / chapter of its own.

If you enjoyed this post – help me out and share it :)



Main banner Image credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicholas_t/8929607214/

 

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Content Strategy, Content Marketing and Content is King
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Rishi has been a consultant in online marketing for over 10 years, specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing, Email and Social Media. Over the years he has worked with many brands as well as many small businesses.